Part 11: Trolling for Treasure"Psst. You guys. Wake up."
"Wha? Who's -- oh it's you. Aw, c'mon, you're here to kill us at this time in the morning? I thought we'd agreed to leave each other alone."
"Rest assured, we have no intention of harming you. In fact, we are here to propose a temporary alliance."
"I must object! We already have our own adventuring party -- and we're doing a great deal better than you are, if I do say so myself. Why should we assist you?"
"The other members of our party feel that we ought to assist King Zealot in his efforts to rule Terra; we would rather learn more before making up our minds. Since the three of you seem more reasonable than your compatriots, we hoped you might be willing to assist us."
"Also, there's a share of the loot in it for you, if there's loot. And there's always loot."
"Well, why didn't ya say so in the first place? Let's get goin' already!"
"-- is a bad influence on you. Now come on, I'm sick of arguing already. Let's get out of here before your asshole friends wake up. Follow me."
"So we're visitin' King Tumult's castle? I've heard he likes adventurers. You think he's got some work for a ninja?"
"I, Chathos, am bent to the task of securing their return."
"Artifacts from a glorious past, you say? We've got some of those! Uh, sorry about the chipped corner on this statuette. I was keeping it next to my spare helmet."
"That which you bring me now will be returned to the shrine, but there are still others waiting to be discovered. Take your reward and continue the search."
Like Castle Whiteshield, this castle has a shrine with a priest/curator/whatever who wants Ancient Artifacts corresponding to the castle's alignment. Despite its ominous name, Castle Blood Reign is actually the Neutral castle, and as such Chathos gives the whole party loads of experience for turning in Neutral artifacts.
There are four of these omnipresent creepy talking Moai heads in the corners of the castle. Putting their messages together, they give the following puzzle:
"The first is in flower, and also in bloom."
"The second is in grave, and also in gloom."
"The third is in chamber, and also in room."
"The last is in wef, but not in the loom."
"The last is in wef, but not in the loom? What kind of stupid clue is that? They don't even share any letters to begin with!"
"Calm down, Murphy. I am sure we have been given enough information to find the answer regardless. The first letter must be L or O, the second is G, the third must be M or R..."
"'Ogre' seems a more likely answer, somehow."
"Oh, sorry, I wasn't answering. An insect just flew into my mouth."
"Tho' evil schemes are quick to gain, neutral plots shall be their bane."
"Strife, huh? Well, that is how we make our living, and I don't know about the rest of you but I'm not ready to retire any time soon. Seems like this could be our kind of place!"
Our party currently isn't strong enough to bash down the grates in Castle Blood Reign with any reasonable chance of success, and Cyrus isn't much help with the locked doors either. Luckily, we picked up an Etherealize spell last update, allowing us to walk straight through any barriers at the cost of a whole bunch of spell points. This is one of the handful of situations where Etherealize is actually useful, since the Teleport spell is blocked in this castle.
"Aw, look how cute they are! It's like someone crossed a frog with a koala!"
"Can we save the fawning until we've finished beating them to death before they do the same to us, please?"
Trolls give a decent chunk of experience and aren't too tough for the party to kill at this point, but they do hit respectably hard. They also drop generous amounts of gold and gems: 2500 gold and 20 gems each.
"Hey, d'ya think King Whatsisname is gonna be pissed off at us for killin' his pet trolls and rooting around for treasure in his castle?"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry about it. From what I've heard, King Tumult respects those who have the strength and daring to simply take what they want. Truly a man after my own heart."
"... of course, it would be entirely consistent with his philosophical commitments to keep his treasure well-defended."
The alarm is set off whether you succeed or fail to open the lock. I tried a few times and Cyrus's lockpicking skills just aren't yet up to scratch for opening these boxes. They just have gold and random items anyway; I can come back for them later.
Setting off the alarm fills the hallways with Castle Guards, who have a pretty strong melee attack but shouldn't be all that much of a threat if you're capable of getting to the chests in the first place. You could repeatedly set off the alarm and use the guards to grind for experience if you were very bored, but they don't really give out enough XP to be worthwhile.
"This must be where we use the solution to that riddle! They were named the Ogre Islands, right?"
"Remember, assumptions make an ass out of you and mptions."
"Oh. Guess we'll have to do some dungeon-crawling to find out the other name for the Frozen Isles before we can open that chest, then."
"Perhaps some other time. We've not finished looting the castle itself yet, after all."
"Legend has it that King Tumult keeps ancient artifacts of good and evil in pits like these, securely hidden away from those who would search for them."
"Seriously? Somebody lower me down on a rope. I wanna be the first to see whatever treasure the king's hiding in there."
"Hey, I've got the artifact, but I think there's something else down here. Feels like something's nibbling on my fbluuaaaaaaaaaaaagh--"
"Hmm. In hindsight, I should probably have mentioned the piranhas earlier."
There are four pits of blood in the castle. Each one requires a rope or the Create Rope spell to enter, does 500 physical damage to the character searching it, and contains an Ancient Artifact of Good or Evil. Getting all the artifacts is obviously going to involve a few trips back to the nearest town temple.
"Can we lay off on the blood jokes, just this once? I just got lowered into four pools of the stuff filled with deadly flesh-eating fish, causing me to be eaten alive, revived and eaten again four times over. My armour still smells funny."
"Didn't like that one? Don't worry, I've got plenty more!"
There are literally dozens of different jokes the castle jesters can tell at random, so I'm not going to show you all of them, just the really terrible ones. Rest assured, they are all bad.
"Still not laughing? Tough crowd. Wait, just give me one more chance!"
"What does King Tumult even pay you for?"
"Keeping unwanted visitors away from his throne room. You're the only ones in years to tolerate me for this long."
"Sorry. We're here to listen to what the king has to say about the situation in Terra and we're not taking no for an answer."
"It is my sole desire to agitate their conflict and keep it such that the bulk of their forces remain pitted against each other and out of my affairs. Bring me the Power Orbs so my influence may ride above that of the battling forces of good and evil. As long as I keep them in check with each other, my schemes can be executed unhindered."
"And what's in it for us?"
"Why, a world safe for adventurers, of course! Surely you've realised by now that your livelihood depends on a state of perpetual conflict. If the world is laid to waste by evil, there will be nobody to reward you for your heroic deeds -- but if it is ruled by good, what need will there be for heroes? So you see, it's in your own interests to help me."
"There is some wisdom in what you say. When the battle lines between good and evil are drawn within every heart, who can hope to survive the total victory of either side?"
"I don't understand a word he just said, but if your plan lets us keep fightin' monsters and gettin' loot, it's okay by me. If we find any Ultimate Power Orbs, maybe we'll be back here. Sorry about killin' all those guards, by the way."
"Oh, don't worry about it. These things happen. I'll just charge the resurrection fees to their insurance provider and take the increase in premiums out of their salary. It was their fault for letting you kill them, after all."
The riddle we solved earlier actually unlocks the entrance to the castle dungeon. We won't be heading down there in this update, though.
"We should head back to town before it gets too dark. I need to be up in time for my morning exercise regime, you know!"
"Isn't trekking across the land and fighting monsters enough exercise for anyone?"
"Perhaps, if all you want is to be strong. But isn't it more important for me to look astonishingly buff? After all, it's no use being able to wrestle dragons with my bare hands if I can't impress the opposite sex and continue my bloodline."
"Didn't I already say to stop talking about blood?"
"So what's everyone think about this Tumult guy's offer, anyway?"
"Well, I dunno. King Zealot sounded pretty convincing when he was talking about bringing a new age of peace to Terra and all that. It's not like I want people to get hurt... but at the same time, hurting things is my job, you know? I'll have to think about it some more."
"Why d'you even trust Zealot? Everyone's just out for themselves in the end. At least Tumult admits it."
"Nobody writes history books about times of peace and harmony. Conflict is our natural state of existence. Without it, what value would there be in life?"
"My duty to my god is to, uh, to 'observe and document suffering in order to give it meaning'. So if everyone gets saved or killed while I'm not around to see it, that'd be bad, right? But if Tumult gets his way, then things will stay pretty much like they are now and there'll still be lots of suffering for me to observe!"
"A... most interesting philosophy. As for myself, I believe I have already said all I have to say. What about you, Murphy? What is your opinion on the matter?"
"Me? Hell, I'm just sticking with whatever group is least likely to do something stupid and get itself killed."
Since I pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch on you guys by creating an ad-hoc neutral party to do the neutral castle in this update, we'll be using the actual evil party in the next one. I won't paralyse you all with options by making you pick from a list of every dungeon we've seen so far (although if you've got a strong preference for one in particular, you can mention it). Instead, I'll just ask if you'd like to see the party explore a castle dungeon or an outdoor dungeon? Vote now!